Mike Pence soon will enter a season of decision.
Once the votes are counted a few weeks from now in the 2014 election, Indiana’s governor will have to make a choice – stand for re-election as the state’s chief executive or run for president.
The bet here is Pence, a Republican, will go for the White House.
If he wants to be president – and every indication suggests Pence does want to hear “Hail to the Chief” when he enters a room – then this likely will be his best shot.
In fact, several factors suggest it may be his only shot.
One factor is age.
Pence will be 57 in 2016. If he waits until 2020, he’ll be 61. If he waits until 2024, he’ll be 65.
The last time voters chose a first-time presidential candidate who was older than 55 was more than quarter-century ago – in 1988, when George H.W. Bush beat Michael Dukakis.
Twice in recent years – when two older candidates, Sen. Robert Dole, R-Kansas, and Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, were on the ballot – their age and concerns about their health bubbled just below the surface of the debate about who should lead the nation.
That’s why the biggest obstacle confronting former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s likely presidential candidacy may not be the gender barrier but the fact that, should she be elected, she’d be the second-oldest president in American history to take the oath of office.
Is that age discrimination?
Yeah, probably, but voters have a funny way of deciding on their own what concerns them and what doesn’t – even when their concerns aren’t always rational.
And, at this point in our history, voters from both parties seem inclined to choose presidents who are in their late 40s or early 50s.
There’s also another related issue.
If Pence sits out this presidential campaign, one of two things will happen.
If another Republican wins in 2016, then Pence won’t be able to try again until 2024.
And if a Democrat wins, Pence would have to try to knock off an incumbent in 2020. In 2004 and 2012, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, respectively, demonstrated the huge advantages that even those incumbents who don’t possess the strongest public approval ratings have in defining the debate and controlling events.
Then there’s the fact that, should Pence choose to run for re-election as Indiana’s governor, his victory is far from assured.
Pence barely won his first run for the governor’s office.
Despite having a huge fundraising advantage in a year in which most other Republicans – we’ll get to the exception in a moment – ran strong, Pence failed to capture 50 percent of the vote. He eked a narrow three-point win over Democrat John Gregg, who was closing the gap fast in the campaign’s last days. If the campaign had gone on another two weeks, Pence very well might have lost.
The exception to the Republican tidal wave in Indiana that year was Glenda Ritz, the underfunded Democratic candidate for state superintendent of public instruction who pulled off a shocking upset. Ritz actually won more Hoosier votes than Pence did.
Ritz’s election gave Hoosier Democrats a possible path to victory. Since that election, Pence and Ritz have squabbled and feuded non-stop. The political effect of the fussing is that Ritz’s supporters see Pence as their opponent.
That’s not likely to help Pence in another governor’s race. Nor would his strident stands on other issues – same-sex marriage, for instance – where Hoosiers’ positions seem to have moderated or evolved.
But those hard-right stances likely would play well in Republican presidential primaries, which may have been part of the reason Pence staked them out.
Last, but far from least, Pence has allowed key former staffers take positions with the Koch brothers’ conservative and GOP political funding juggernaut.
If he planned to run a tough race for governor, he’d probably have those valued allies close by his side. Instead, Pence has put them where he’s likely to need them more.
Pence may delay making his plans known for a bit – and for good reason. The minute he announces a presidential candidacy, he becomes a lame duck as governor and encourages Indiana Democrats to step up efforts to thwart and embarrass him.
But it sure looks like the decision has been all but made.
Mike Pence appears to be running for president.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.